When Riverhead Tomcats coach John Galanoudis handed the ball to pitcher Beau Keathley out of the bullpen in the eighth inning Saturday, he delivered a simple message.
“I told him, ‘Hey man, this is your game. Go get ’em,’ ” Galanoudis said.
Keathley, who quickly emerged as the closer this summer for Riverhead, needed one out to get out of a jam with the Tomcats holding a three-run lead against Sag Harbor in Game 3 of the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League semifinals. He didn’t help himself right away, walking the first batter he faced on four pitches to load the bases. He fell behind the next batter 2-0.
Did Galanoudis begin to worry?
“A little bit,” he said. “That’s where him being young comes back a little. He’s a sophomore … I think that’s maybe just jitters.”
Two pitches later, Keathley got a ground ball to second to escape the jam and when he returned to the mound in the ninth inning, he promptly retired the Whalers in order to shut the door on a 4-1 win that sends the Tomcats into the championship round for the first time since 2012. They’ll face the Long Island Road Warriors beginning Monday in a best-of-three series to vie for their first championship. They’ve lost both of their prior championship series appearances in 2010 and 2012.
It wasn’t the first time the Tomcats went to Keathley for a four-out save. With the game on the line, they had reason to be confident in the young pitcher from Oakland University. He’s been nearly unhittable this season, posting a 0.46 ERA this summer prior to Saturday’s game at Veterans Memorial Park in Calverton. He’s allowed just one earned run.
His low, side-armed delivery makes for a tough challenge for any batter. He’s been so dominant, he was leading the team in strikeouts (32) prior to Saturday’s game despite only throwing 19.1 innings. Seven Tomcats pitchers had thrown more innings.
“The ball comes from underneath and dives into righties,” Galanoudis said. “And he’s got this frisbee slider that once you’re timed for the fastball in, it’s almost impossible to hit.”
Galanoudis said as the season progressed early on and the coaches got familiar with all the players, Keathley quickly emerged as the best option to close games. His save Saturday was the fifth of the season. He also closed out the Game 1 win.
His teammates know once Keathley steps on the mound, victory is within reach.
“We’re very confident,” said third baseman Louis Antos, who homered in the first inning. “I think Beau is a great kid, unbelievable pitcher. When he’s out there I always know he’s going to get the job done.”
Antos hit a 1-1 pitch over the left field fence that put the Tomcats ahead 1-0 and it was a lead they never relinquished. All the offense they needed came early. They added a run in the second and two more in the third to take a 4-0 lead. Sag Harbor’s lone run came in the fourth.
Antos said he saw two off-speed pitches to start his at-bat and his approach is to always hunt fastballs.
“I got a fastball up in the zone and I didn’t miss it,” he said.
Antos hasn’t missed many pitches this summer. The Ronkonkoma native who plays for Queens College was batting .425 in 28 games prior to Saturday’s game. He was 2-4 Saturday.
“To be honest, I expect a lot out of myself,” he said. “I’m just having fun. I love baseball and I love playing the game, especially for these coaches and teammates.”
Casey Aubin, a UMass senior, started for the Tomcats in what was his first start of the summer. Galanoudis said he had another pitcher originally lined up if this game was needed. But a minor injury to the pitcher forced Galanoudis to reconsider his starter. He spoke to Aubin on the bus after Friday’s loss in Sag Harbor, which set up a Game 3, about taking the mound for a winner-take-all game.
“He’s a mature kid, he’s a leader,” Galanoudis said. “I had 100 percent confidence in giving him the ball today. I just knew his adrenaline and his composure at the same time was going to get him through.”
Aubin delivered four strong innings, which was right around what Galanoudis hoped to get out of him. He gave up one run. The damage could have been worse if not for a great play in center field by Connor Echols of Dayton University. With runners on first and second, he gunned down a runner at the plate in the third inning after a base hit for the second out. Aubin got the next batter out and the Whalers ended the inning without a run.
Galanoudis kicked off the game in style by singing the National Anthem. It was the second time performing this summer, the last being Fourth of July.
Music has always been a big part of his life. He’s recorded songs available on streaming services like iTunes under the name Johnny G, include an ode to baseball titled “Summer Ball” that was released in 2016. He said he tries to keep the two worlds separate, but the players inevitably find out about his music. Before the game started, someone recommended he sing.
He jumped at the opportunity.
“It was kind of a spur of the moment, last minute thing,” he said.
Now, the Tomcats are two wins away from singing “We are the Champions.”
Top photo caption: The Tomcats celebrate their semifinals win Saturday. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)